Click to Return to RVeCafe Homepage
Travel Resources

Taking Delivery of the Cameo F35SB3

Click to see What's New at RVeCafe  

April 18, 2007: The last dawn in the King of the Road. We boon docked in the "Peoples Church" parking lot in Salem, Oregon to be close to Wager's Trailer Sales this morning. We had breakfast at the Original Pancake House as we did during our first visit.

Last night in the King of the Road
Moving the mattress and other stuff We hit the dealer at 8:30 am, thirty minutes before our appointment time to find that the sales office did not open until 9am. We found our trailer with no help and began looking in the windows. It wasn't long before Dave Wagers, our salesman found us.
One of our first tasks was to move the mattress from the King of the Road to the Cameo and visa-versa. As it turned out, we needed the short queen in the Cameo and eventually had to move them back again. About lunch time, Ray and Jo came to Wagers to meet us. They are the officers for the Carriage Travel Club, Chapter #41, the Oregon Cascaders. I had learned of Ray and Jo through my inquiry to the national club. Ray and Jo volunteered to meet us a Wagers the day we took delivery. They took us to lunch to tell us of the club and local activities. Ray is on the other end of the mattress in the above photo. Note the open door of the Cameo. It is exactly opposite the open door to the King of the Road. Plywood was placed between the two trailers to transfer our belongings from one to the other.
I'm writing the pay-off check to Wager's in Dave Wagers office.
Dave Wagers has been a great person to work with for this sale. He has kept me up to date on delivery and made sure everything was ordered correctly on our unit. This check was written at about 5:45 pm after working all day to transfer all our stuff from the King of the Road to the Cameo. I had expected to easily deliver our stuff to the Cameo while Gwen put everything in it's place. It soon became apparent that we only had enough time to transfer the stuff and throw it where-ever. Ninety percent of the stuff would have to be arranged sometime later. What a mess. This included my Internet gear, hence, it has taken me three days to get back online.
Dave took care of the paperwork to transfer our King of the Road state of Oregon license plates to the Cameo. That makes it very easy, an immediate license on our trailer. As it turns out, our bedroom slide had a small problem and needed an adjustment so we spent another night in Salem, this time at the Phoenix RV park just down the street from Wagers.
April 19, 2007: We delivered our trailer back to Wagers early Thursday morning for the bedroom slide adjustment. It was ready for travel by the time we returned from breakfast. We enjoy the restaurant at the Seven Feathers Casino Travel Center. It's easy parking for trucks and RV's. We parked here with the King of the Road on the way to Salem. Pass your cursor through the photo to see the KOTR in the same parking spot. We are headed south on Interstate 5 toward Stockton, California and the Spring Escapade.
Both trailers parked at the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville, The KOTR on the way to Salem and the Cameo on the way from Salem.

The first month ownership report:

The living area of the F35SB3
May 21, 2007: We have lived in the Cameo F35SB3 for one month. During this month we have learned that this floor plan is one of the most popular Carriage has ever designed. We have not been disappointed in the floor plan or the quality of the materials or construction. We have towed our Cameo about 1,000 miles since our purchase but have lived in it full time. During the last month, we have been making changes to suit our living style. The photo above is of the living area. In a stock F35SB3, you would see plastic replicas of stained glass in the cabinet door fronts, we paid to have real maple installed in the cabinet doors. The living area looks crowded with the two desk chairs, but Gwen and I spend much of our time on our computers. Her workstation is the Mahogany desk in the left corner while my workstation is behind the TV to the right. The LCD TV is on an articulated arm to allow for use of the workstation as well as viewing the TV from different locations in the trailer. It is difficult to see but there is a cat perch above Gwen's laptop on the left of her desk. This keeps Annie off our furniture most of the time. We love the theater seats on the left and the surround sound system for movies and music. We have had no service problems or surprises we have not liked. One surprise I liked was the discovery that the TV antenna is connected to the FM receiver allowing me to pick up a very weak public radio signal from Klamath Falls while camped at Howard Prairie Resort. Additionally, we have experienced 30 degree mornings but found the Cameo easy to heat. We can highly recommend the Cameo.


Note: For warranty repairs to the Cameo, click here.

For changes we have made to the Cameo, click here.

For options we chose and detailed description of this model, click here.

Spring Camping at Howard Prairie Lake Resort above Ashland, Oregon

April 18, 2008: This is my First Year Report after living in the Cameo for one full year.

We chose this trailer because we wanted this floor plan. We felt it was the ideal floor plan for us to live full time in a fifth wheel. After one year, we still LOVE this floor plan and consider it ideal for us. When you check the options and changes we have made to this model, you'll see we have made it "our-own" to meet our lifestyle. The major living area change is leaving out the couch to make room for a computer workstation and leaving out the "built-in" TV to make room for a second computer workstation. The large satellite dish you see in the photo above is our satellite Internet dish. We have a wireless network in the trailer so we can both be using the Internet at the same time. Obviously, working on our computers is important to both Gwen and I. A quick summary of our review would be "two thumbs-up" for this trailer. I get into more details below. Having said that, in April, 2007, only the Cameo model was available in this floor plan, now this floor plan is available in the Carri-lite as well. If you have an extra $20,000 for a trailer and an extra $20,000 for a tow vehicle, I'd be buying the Carri-lite model over the Cameo. Not because there is something wrong with the Cameo but because you'll get many more benefits in the Carri-lite model over the Cameo model for the extra money. I recommend this upgrade only if you plan to live in your fifth-wheel full time or just have an extra $40,000 to burn. You can have the dealer describe the differences between the two models. If you are down to purchasing, besides all the options we got on the Cameo, I'd add disk brakes, dual pane windows and individually controlled landing jacks (the landing jacks may be standard on the Carri-lite, they weren't on the Cameo). I personally wouldn't add these options to the Cameo simply because you are trying to make the Cameo into a higher level model than it was intended to be, it's like putting a $10 saddle on a $2 horse. The Cameo is now Carriage's bottom of the line while the Compass was the bottom of the line in 2006 and earlier. Still, if comparing to other brands, be sure you are comparing apples to apples ... in 2008, the Cameo is about a $65,000 trailer so be sure to compare with other brands in that price range. The Carri-lite is about $85,000 - $95,000 depending upon options. So the Cameo is still a medium priced fifth wheel when comparing to other brands who may have cheaper trailers but less quality.

Why do we like this model? Fifth wheels have two basic floor plans. One floor plan is a multi use area from front to rear where the front area is a combination bedroom/bathroom area while the rear area is a kitchen/living area. The smaller the trailer the more multi use the whole trailer. This floor plan is ideal for families and vacation trailers and makes good use of the trailer square footage because most areas are "multi use". The problem with this floor plan for us is the feeling of a "vacation" trailer where privacy and comfort are difficult to find (remember, the bathroom is IN the bedroom). The second floor plan style has a separate bedroom and bathroom up front and combination kitchen/living area in the rear. We had always rejected this style floor plan because it seemed so space-wasteful with a hallway to the bedroom and bathroom off the hallway. We rejected this style UNTIL we saw the F35SB3. With rounded corners on the bathroom and bedroom and window in the "hallway", it gives the feeling of a two level apartment. The hallway to the bedroom french door is short and bright due to the window. The linen closet is opposite the bedroom door so the "wasted" space is minimal. Additionally, even if the bedroom door is open, you can't see into the bedroom from the living area. Both the bedroom french door and the bathroom door are REAL doors, not sliders or vinyl accordian partitions. This floor plan feels like a real home with three separate living areas, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen/living area.

What's our feeling of the trailer quality?: First, understand that we have lived in the trailer for a year but have put only 6,000 miles on the trailer. It sits for about 6 months at a southern Oregon resort, we move it about 50 miles where it sits for another two months, then we travel for one month. That's where the majority of the miles come from. Second, understand, the Cameo is the bottom of the Carriage line of fifth wheels. Carriage designs the Cameo to stay within a certain price point so they must choose materials, parts and accessories to keep the price low. For example, the Cameo is 96" wide with only enough space for two 30lb propane tanks. The next levels up are 100" wide with 40# tanks. You can't "fix" a 96" wide trailer by making is 100" wide nor can you add 40# tanks, they just won't fit. On the other hand, when Carriage leaves off shock absorbers to save $100+, or they don't put dimmer switches on the overhead halogens above the bed ($80+), you CAN "fix" that. You will also see that some "option" items for the Cameo are "standard" on the Carri-lite". What I'm saying is to be honest in making a judgment of the Cameo, and NOT judge it with the same expectations as a Carri-lite.

If you read our warranty report, it may seem like we have had lots of problems, however, notice that nearly ALL our problems are with appliances, and not structural. There are literally thousands of things that can go wrong on one of these trailers and I'm amazed at ALL the problems WE HAVE NOT HAD. Our trailer is not perfect, we plan to replace a bedroom slide motor and take the wrinkles out of the rubber roof under warranty this summer but for the overall quality of the craftsmanship, I would give it a solid "A" rating. I've seen other brands of trailers with many more problems and heard "horror stories" of how owners struggled with those manufacturers to get warranty work completed. Carriage has supported all our problems even when they didn't have to due to errors I made (choosing the wrong repairman). After living and traveling in the Cameo for a year, I would make the same decision again to purchase this product (understanding that the Carri-lite did not have this floor plan a year ago) and would buy another Carriage product when it's time to trade this one in.

In another lifetime, I once owned a bicycle shop. I was very proud of the bicycles I sold but would occasionally have a customer question why my lowest price bicycle was $300 while the department store had bicycles for $89. What they saw at the department store seemed the same to them. A bicycle with two wheels, handlebars, tires, brakes, pedals, 10 speeds, and painted pretty colors. In our shop, we would compare the department store bicycle to a paper plate, "you use it once and throw it away". You see, the department store bicycle was nearly impossible to keep running. The components were so poorly made, the brakes could not be adjusted, the derailleur would not hold a setting, wheels would not hold their true and pedals would often bend when used for any length of time. Customers would bring department store bicycles to us for a "tune-up" and we often had to quote repair prices which were more than they paid for the bike because we knew brakes, cables, derailleurs would have to be replaced with quality components. So I would always answer that "the department store bicycle was a fine bike as long as you didn't really want to ride it". Even my least expensive bike was designed to last the rider as long a ride as they could endure. If it needed repair, it was usually a simple adjustment and that adjustment would hold true for several months. I look at the Carriage product just like I looked at the bikes I sold. Even the least expensive model is built to last the travel goals I have in mind. I expect to travel in my Cameo for ten years because it was designed and built with quality components and for full time living. One of my readers wrote an email to me some time ago saying her trailer had a roof leak and the insurance company wanted to "total" the trailer because the repairs would cost $8,000. She wanted to know if I thought she could do the repair herself and save much of the $8,000. The brand of trailer reminded me of the quality of the department store bicycles and I immediately remembered the look on my department-store-bike customer's faces when I quoted a repair price more that the cost of the bike. This lady was in the same situation. Many years ago, a contractor friend of mine purchased a new travel trailer with a plan to live in it between house building jobs. The trailer came with a one year warranty but he explained that if you actually LIVED in the trailer, they reduced the warranty to two weeks. Another reminder of the department store bicycle. I have a couple of points in mind. One is my expectation that my Cameo will last through my travel goals because it was built for the kind of travel I intend to give it. I'll give another example for my second point. In my bike shop, I had medium priced bicycles in the $600 - $800 range and then "high-end" bicycles in the $1,500 - $2,000 range. The differences between the "low-end" bicycles and "medium" bicycles was always the quality of the components. Better brakes, wheels, pedals, lighter-stronger steel, smoother shifting derailleurs and maybe more speeds all adding up to a bike that would hold adjustments longer increasing reliability. The difference between the medium and "high-end" bike was mostly cosmetic and a refining of (luxury)components only the professional racer would need. I've pointed out many of the advantages to moving to a Carri-lite as practical and useful. Carriage and many other brands offer levels above this "medium" priced model. So my second point is that I'm not unconvinced that the "high-end" fifth wheel is more for cosmetics and luxury.

Here is another trick that some bicycle brands pull. Some manufacturers will put a high-end derailleur on a medium or low-end bicycle but that's the ONLY high-end component on the bike. Why, because the novice rider quickly learns the derailleur model number for the high-end bike when shopping, then they look at the rear derailleur first in all the stores. In this case, they see a high-end model derailleur but a medium or low price tag and think they have found a bargain. The truth is, the bike still has low-end brakes, wheels, frame, etc. Some trailer manufacturers do this too. What's the first thing you look at when shopping for a fifth wheel? I guess, for the lady, it's the kitchen counter top or maybe the single lever kitchen faucet. Believe me, manufacturers know exactly where you look. What about the men? I'd guess men may look at the alloy tire rims or fancy paint stripes first. Using my bicycle example, a trailer may have alloy rims and a Corian counter top but the rest of the trailer does not match the quality of these two components, it's still a low-end trailer but makes you think you've found a bargain. I have two points. One, don't be fooled by one or two high-end components on a low-end model trailer. You want everything on the trailer you purchase to be matching in quality OR you want the items you can easily replace to be lower quality but the major trailer components that can't be replaced such as the frame, axles, and body construction to be superior. My second point was made sevaral paragraphs earlier, the reason I suggested dual pane windows and disk brakes for the Carri-lite but not the Cameo was if you upgrade major components like this you still have a Cameo frame, ceiling, walls, carpet, etc. Why not buy the better model to begin with rather than try to make the Cameo into something it wasn't intended to be. I had many customers come to me wanting better quality components put onto their low-end bicycles and was happy to accommodate them but they still had a low-end frame, wheels, pedals, crankshaft, handlebars, etc. They should have bought the better bike to begin with so that all components matched in quality. When I bought the Cameo, I believed Carriage built a matched medium-quality unit and hoped what I couldn't see, the underlying structure, was superior to what I could see. After a year, I still believe I have a medium quality unit and don't see stress cracks which might indicate the underlying frame needed more engineering. Since I couldn't get this floor plan in a Carri-lite at the time, I'll admit, I did upgrade a few items to better quality such as a better quality awning than the Cameo standard.

When fifth wheel shopping, you can always find a bargain brand fifth wheel which may be fine, if you don't really want to use it. Otherwise, it may be like a paper plate, use it once and throw it away. Let's see what I'm saying at the end of two years in the Cameo (the end of the warranty period).

April 18, 2009: This is my Second Year Report. Today marks two years that we have owner the Cameo. We are still just as pleased with the floor plan and the overall quality of the Cameo. We purchased the F35SB3 two years ago because we liked this floor plan so much. No other model had this floor plan. If you read the One Year Report, you learned that Carriage now makes this floor plan in the Carri-Lite which is the next model higher. The Cameo became the entry level model in 2007. We actually saw some 2008 Carri-Lites last year which were only a few thousand dollars more than the Cameo. The normal price difference is about $15,000. We haven't had any more serious warranty problems. The problems we have had have been taken care of quickly by Carriage. We have towed the Cameo about 10,000 miles and I'm pleased with the handling of the trailer while towing. I do see some wear on the slides where they meet the trailer. None of the slides meet the trailer perfectly, I'm not sure that any trailer with slides has a perfect match but I'm going to pay better attention when I see other models. I'm just pleased that everything is still working and I don't feel I have any troubles other than what would be normal with a two year old trailer. One concern is the ceiling. When I purchased the Cameo, I noticed the ceiling was constructed with the same material as are cheaper trailers. It appears to be 1/8" masonite, painted white with a shadow ceiling joists pattern on one side. I tried to upgrade the ceiling but Carriage would not allow it. Now I am noticing a shadow in the masonite where the aluminum ceiling joists cross the coach. I don't know if this is due to excess moisture in the trailer, glue from the construction, or just a difference in temperature between the metal joist and the masonite. I've marked the shadows with red. This is just one panel but all panels are showing the same shadow of the metal joists. Of course the worst situation would be if this masonite pulls away from the ceiling joists and starts to sag. I don't see any indication of sagging. I imagine this ceiling material is paintable but I hate the thought of having to paint the ceiling. It is just disappointing since I consider the Cameo to be above this type of ceiling material in quality but obviously a method to reduce the cost of manufacturing the Cameo. I'll just finish by saying we are still very happy with our Cameo, but if you are looking for a new unit to purchase, I would highly recommend you pay the extra for the Carri-Lite. The Carri-Lite has a nice vinyl ceiling.
Our Cameo at Oliver Lee State Park, New Mexico

Sunday, April 18, 2010: Today marks the third year we have lived in our F35SB3 and we are still as happy about our purchase as the day we moved in. During this third year I have made one change which has had a huge effect on my comfort level of towing. We tow with a Dodge 3500 4x4 so the height of the bed is higher than a pickup without four wheel drive. The pin was always a little high (about 4 inches) to the rest of the trailer. Because of our off pavement travels I decided to flip the trailer axles to allow more road clearance and to level the trailer when towing. Wow! What a difference in towing stability. I was not expecting to feel any difference and thought it might even feel top-heavy, but instead, the Cameo is much more stable when towing and I can feel the difference. For those who wonder about why we have a 4x4 for towing, I have used it many times, especially the low-4x4 range. I see many 5th wheel owners struggling to back up a hill or to pull their wheels onto leveling blocks. Some have even over heated their automatic transmission or burned up clutches doing so. I just slip the truck into low-4x4 range and literally idle the Cameo to where I need it. Of course we do off road camping so it’s also helpful to have 4x4 in those situations too.

Our big frustration this year was the off-door side slide which would not match the trailer wall when retracted. Since we are out of warranty, we paid Wager’s Trailer Sales in Salem, Oregon to make the repair. The trim was replaced because the “L” slide seal had rubbed off all the trim paint to raw metal. The “L” seal was also replaced because it was bent since the top of the slide was hitting then bending before the bottom of the slide would come even close to the trailer wall. The white “D” gasket material was tripled at the top of the slide to hold it out allowing the bottom of the slide to seal. The frustration is that this did not seem like much of a repair to me. No slide adjustments were made. We had taken the Cameo to two other repair location before Wagers and each told us they could not make the repair because adjustments were needed and only the dealer had the tools to make the adjustments. Obviously, anyone could have made the repair done by Wagers including me. I was told by Wagers that they followed Carriage “protocol” in making the repair. And, the repair DID fix the problem somewhat. The “L” seal is not bending as much as it was and the slide seals better but not perfectly. But I’ve lost confidence in the Carriage slide engineering and design. I’m a member of the Carriage Owner’s online forum and there is a whole category devoted to slide problems.

This year the door-slide gear that drives the slide out then brings it back in began to slip. First it was just occasional then finally, it would not return the slide at all, just slip. I ordered a new gear but soon after was informed by one of my Carriage forum buddies that it was likely, the motor mount bolts needed to be tightened.  I did so and the gear stopped slipping, returning the slide to its traveling position. After about 4 months it began slipping again so this time I loosened all four bolts, pried the motor toward seating the gear with the slide track, then tightened the bolts and have not had a problem since then (it’s been about six months). Again, I believe this to be a design/engineering problem that needs to be addressed at the basic levels.

I’m currently having a problem with a leaking sewer release valve. Usually this is something caught in the valve (like tissue paper) which does not allow the valve to seal properly. We will be moving to a full hookup park on Monday so I can flush the tank and valve area to try to dislodge whatever the problem is. If it turns out to be a defective valve, I already have one on hand. They are only $14 (probably cheaper in Quartzsite) and only require loosing and replacing four bolts to install.

Think of all the little things and many systems that can go wrong on an RV. If you go back into my archives, you will see my first fifth wheel was a 4 year old King of the Road. I was constantly making repairs, mostly to little things and it was a high quality rig. I’m still very pleased with the Cameo that most everything is working well and only little things need repair. I DO believe the Carriage engineers need to redesign the slide mechanism but it IS working and keeping my “fingers-crossed” each time we move a slide seems to help. If you are thinking of a Cameo purchase, I would still recommend it, just be aware of how the slides work so you can make a repair if they don’t. So, I’ll just repeat what I said in the first paragraph, we are still very happy with our F35SB3 purchase.

Friday, June 24, 2011: Our fourth annual review did not happen on April 18 because I've been waiting until the living room slide was repaired. Yes, the living room slide has continued with problems. Fox RV located only ten miles north of the factory is recommended by several on the Carriage forum. Fox rebuilt the motor mount for the living room slide and matched the motor to the gearing far better than the original. That repair was made quickly and hopefully will fix the problem forever. The kitchen slide was also adjusted. This fourth review means we have lived full time in our Cameo for more than four years. We are still happy with our Cameo and still recommend Wagers RV in Salem, Oregon as a dealer to go out of the way to purchase. Repair list tapped to our Cameo at Fox RV

I believe them to be honest and will give a fair trade-in value for your old RV. However, knowing what I know now, I would purchase from Wagers, then pick the unit up directly from the factory in Millersburg. I'd drive the unit directly to Fox RV to have them double check the slide motor settings and other important settings. Wagers had to charge about $2,500 for delivery so picking up the unit yourself will be about break-even. Yes, the dealer selling the fifth wheel should do this kind of prep work before the sale and Wagers did a very good job of preparing the unit and adding many RV accessories at no additional charge. However, we took our trailer to Wager's service for a kitchen slide adjustment which may have been done to "Carriage protocol" but did not fix the problem. Fox RV rebuilt the slide bracket so now the slide matches the trailer wall as it should. So ... enough about that.

If you check my first review, I spent a lot of words suggesting the Carri-lite. I still think highly of the quality of the Carri-lite but no longer recommend it because it is large and heavy. Both Gwen and I believe, if we had it to do over again, would choose something smaller (shorter). It has to do with the type of travel we do. The larger fifth wheels are heavy and therefore require a large tow vehicle. For something our size (36 feet) and larger, you really need at least a Ford F450, Dodge 4500 or larger tow vehicle, for a Carri-lite, even a Mid-duty Truck (MDT). The shortest Cameo (31KSLS)for the 2012 season is about 32 feet long. I'm going to mention the options I would go for on the Cameo from the factory list. If I don't comment on an option, it's because I have no opinion. The Central Vacuum is a joke ... go with a Dyson upright, you'll get better cleaning cheaper. The fireplace takes up too much room for an electric heater. The black-out shades are a MUST. The Astro Foil is a must. Leave off the heat pump, add the bedroom AC if you will be living in hotter areas. One AC is good to about 88 degrees, beyond that, you'll need a second AC. Yes, get the fantastic vent fans. The Onan generator is heavy and takes up your entire front storage cabinet, leave it out. Yes on the dual pane windows, they reduce outside noise as well as help slightly with heating and cooling. Yes on the awning over the living room slide windows. It's not mentioned in the option list but you should upgrade the awnings to the style which has a metal covering over the awning fabric. They will be cheaper in the long run. If you have a 4 x 4, raise the axles, get the Mor/ryde pin box AND disc brakes (an expensive option but one you'll be glad you have). Get a larger refrigerator (we got the 10 foot), get the convection microwave and cooktop. Two more options I can think of which are not on any list ... dimmer switches for the lights over the bed rather than toggle switches and a dedicated electrical outlet near the floor in the bathroom for a small electric wall heater. You'll add the wall heater later. I did both of these changes myself and both are well worth the cost. The idea is to keep the trailer small enough so you can pull with a one-ton pickup, single rear wheel (like we currently own), then you won't have to be driving a behemoth as a tourist when you aren't towing. One final comment. The two year warranty given by Carriage is the best in the industry. Don't buy your Carriage product ahead of time in anticipation of your retirement. Wait until you can actually start traveling. You will want to travel as much as possible the first two years to really work the fifth wheel hard. That way, you'll find any problems during the warranty period and Carriage DOES stand behind their product.


RVeCafe eBooks

Click for RV Stuff Travel Resources
Return to RV Trips Copyright, 2007 by